Silvan Shalom's announcement on Sunday evening that he is retiring from political life has left a vacant spot at the Interior Ministry, and served as the opening shot for the battle over the coveted job as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepares for a cabinet reshuffle.
The two main candidates for the job appear to be Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud). Another minister who is vying for a promotion is Tourism Minister Yariv Levin (Likud), who might take over the Economy Ministry.
The Interior Ministry has temporarily been placed in the hands of Prime Minister Netanyahu, who also holds the foreign, communication, regional cooperation and economy portfolios. Up until several months ago, Netanyahu also served as the health minister, but following a petition filed to the Supreme Court, he had to appoint Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism), who was the deputy minister, as a minister.
Likud officials said that Netanyahu has been preparing for the possibility of Shalom retiring and had already started holding consultations on the topic over the past 24 hours.
Since Deri had to resign from the Economy Ministry over his refusal to sign the natural gas deal, the Shas leader has been expecting an appointment to one of the senior government ministries, officials in the political system said. Sources close to Deri said on Sunday evening that he has not spoken to anyone about the issue yet because he has been busy preparing for his daughter's wedding on Monday.
Likud officials, meanwhile, have clarified that "If Deri wants (the Interior Ministry), it's his."
Sources close to Regev said she expects the prime minister to appoint her as the interior minister, or to another senior position that becomes available. Such a move also has widespread support in the Likud ranks and among Likud mayors.
Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara has also signaled Netanyahu that he expects a ministerial appointment, because he is the oldest serving Likud member.
Minister Yariv Levin, who currently serves as the tourism minister and as the liaison between the Knesset and government, is considered one of the ministers closest and most loyal to Netanyahu. For that reason, Likud officials said there is a possibility he too will receive an "upgrade" to a more senior position.
Replacing Shalom: Likud's first openly-gay MK
Shalom announced his retirement for politics after seven women alleged that he had sexually harassed them. Despite the resignation, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said on Sunday that he would open an examination of the claims.
Shalom's place in the Knesset will be filled by a representative of the LGBT community, Amir Ohana, who will be Likud's first openly-gay MK.
Ohana, who managed to recruit the support of many Likud MKs to LGBT causes and even bring some of them to the pride parade for the first time this year, has so far been unsuccessful in promoting any significant legislative initiatives from outside of the Knesset. He will continue his work for LGBT rights inside the Knesset.
The 38-years-old is an attorney, an IDF major in reserves, a former Shin Bet agent and the founder of the Likud's LGBT cell. He was entered into the Likud's Knesset list as the representative of the Tel Aviv district and placed at number 32.
The Likud party received 30 seats in the last elections, but some of its Knesset members have already been replaced. Danny Danon left the Knesset to become Israel's ambassador to the UN and replaced by MK Sharren Haskel and now Shalom's resignation will introduce Ohana to the Knesset.
Should any other MK leave their post, the next on the list is right-wing activist Yehuda Glick, who survived an attempt on his life. Glick's positions on Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount and construction at isolated settlements is more extreme than that of the prime minister.
Race for Likud leadership
But this isn't the last of the shake ups expected in the ruling party. Prime Minister and Likud leader Netanyahu is mulling the option of holding the primaries for the party leadership earlier than planned - in two months'.
The PMO said that Netanyahu was "considering the move," but officials in the Likud party with whom the prime minister consulted said he plans on going ahead with the move. Sources close to Netanyahu said that after passing the 2015-2016 state budget, he is interested in stabilizing the party.
Netanyahu wants to hold the Likud leadership elections on February 23, 2016. He wants to raise the option early primaries to a vote on Tuesday next week (December 29), when Likud members gather to elect the head of the Likud center.
Transportation Minister and the chairman of the Likud secretariat, Yisrael Katz, strongly opposes the move. "Contrary to the rumors, the primaries for the head of the Likud party will not be moved forward and will be held in accordance with the Likud's constitution - half a year before the next general elections."
Other than Katz and former Likud minister Gideon Sa'ar, many of the Likud's members also opposed the attempt to move forward the elections, with a Likud center member from Nahariya stating that "The Caesar from Caesarea wants to protect his rule at all cost."
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon, however, was in favor of the move. "In light of the complex challenges the State of Israel is facing on different fronts, I support moving the elections for the Likud leadership forward and ensuring the continuation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's tenure as the leader of the movement," he said.
Attila Somfalvi and Yuval Karni contributed to this report.